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cunts, twats, pussies, assholes (this’ll bring the punters)

with 28 comments

Scrolling through the things I call myself on a nightly basis, it occurred to me: wow are the really bad words ever different over here. I’ve picked up a few that I use at home. (Not in front of the children, for chrissake, at least not on purpose!) At first they drew me steely looks from my wife, and then verbal correction. But somehow I’ve now used them enough that I can get away with it, especially if they seem especially unpremeditated. We are I guess becoming a little bit, you know, British.

The two words that come round most often – and they are bad, misog. words so avert your eyes if you feel the stirrings of offense – are cunt and twat. Remember – I didn’t make these things up, nor did I invent anti-female-genitalic shittalking! So please don’t get mad at me!

The two mean almost the same thing, but not quite. I am not sure I am going to be able to describe it all that well. They’re not that far off from a certain usage of the word asshole at home. Cunt is more angry; twat is more dismissive. (I was about to do a demonstration employing everyone’s favorite popular “philosopher,” but IT is right – it’s time to buy him cake, not call him the platonic ideal of twatitude….)

But here’s the interesting thing. Americans have their own very bad words and they too are derived from the business-end of the female of the species. But if an American in America were to call someone either by the C word or the T word, it would probably sound either affectedly-anglophilic or Chelsea-gay or maybe just maybe greasy New Jersey.

I am not sure they know what either of these words mean out in Wisconsin.

But we have our own nasty word, another one that I’m not supposed to use at home, and it is pussy. And that word, when used properly, that is as a descriptor of a person, means only one thing: coward. Oh, or homosexual I suppose. This is suddenly quite interesting to me. I can’t think of a British vulgarity that is generally applied to cowardice, and the Brits don’t as a rule use the P-word since they have all these others that work just as well…. and, perhaps, cowardice isn’t the issue that it is at home. *

So we hate timidity and effeminacy. And they hate… what? I have the words, but I’m still not in a position to define…. Help me out.

* Asshole, in American parliance (and it’s really ours, as they’re never quite sure whether or not to convert it to arsehole, which we’ll all agree just don’t carry the same punch….) is an interesting one as well, as it generally carries at least a tiny bit of respect along with the disapprobation. They guy who cuts you off in traffic is an asshole. Wall Street types are as a rule assholes. Somebody who knocks you down a bit, especially if unjustly, is a bit of an asshole. Hmmmm…. Do most Americans aspire to be assholes? Does America as a whole?

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 8, 2009 at 11:53 pm

Posted in bad words

28 Responses

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  1. This is something that has long interested me. Twat/pussy/cunt all apply to female genitalia, but are significantly different characteristics. Twat is interesting – definitely dismissive, but with a sort of barb that says “If ‘twat’ didn’t exist, I’d plain ignore you. As it is, I’ll pay you just enough attention to call you a twat. Now, go away.”.

    It’s not the sort of thing you can ask in polite company (which is why I’m raising it here…), but does it feel different for a woman to possess a twat rather than a pussy, or a cunt?

    Over in penis land, is there much difference in being a cock rather than a prick, or a dick? I think a little, but nowhere near as much as with the female swearwords. It seems much more of a close venn diagram situation (“some pricks are dicks”), and they feel pretty interchangeable.

    And finally, and no sniggering now, but I had a willy when I was a youngster. I have two daughters, six and four, and there’s definitely an equivalent lacking here. ‘Fanny’, maybe. Which reminds me of when I was twelve, and an American boy came was at our school for a while – the glamour! I was very surprised when he started talking about his fanny pack.

    Now, where’s me swearbox?

    David

    July 9, 2009 at 12:45 am

    • I have a two year old daughter – nothing of the above choices apply at all.

      steve

      December 10, 2009 at 6:01 pm

      • I have to use my wife’s French term: ‘pipette’..

        steve

        December 10, 2009 at 6:03 pm

  2. I’ve sometimes tried to explain the British use of “cunt” by saying that George Bush is a wanker, but Tony Blair is a cunt, but I’ve never really found an American term that has quite the same meaning.

    I think the American term that comes close to picking out the same objectionable qualities might be “douchebag,” but of course that’s a much less strong term. What both share, though, is the sense of somebody whose incredibly objectionable nature is magnified by their being totally unaware of just how objectionable they are.

    I don’t know if it says anything interesting about the British that the strongest term of abuse is reserved for those who are not merely shits, but self-satisfied shits. There might be a certain feeling for class divisions here, a belief that there are a class of people who are so insulated by privelege that they never have to face the fact that they are, in fact, cunts.

    voyou

    July 9, 2009 at 1:38 am

  3. Well, no one likes Assholes but everyone has to deal with ‘em and should accept the fact that they can be one themselves. Pussies get on people’s nerves quickly but easy to cope with (or at least coerce), but they’re the most susceptible to getting fucked over by Dicks. Dicks are generally disagreeable and off-puttingly smug; what’s worse is that they tend to cluster together, though they all deny it. Predatory yet of cursory vigor, Dicks tend to go after Pussies, but some Dicks are bold enough to go after Assholes, which often gets rough as the two duel for dominance.

    Pricks are bantam Dicks, while Cocks are just Dicks devoid of any sophistication, charm, or wit.

    Pussies and Douchebags always seem to get along, though, much to everyone else’s bafflement and disgust. Especially since no one can tell how a Douchebag got to be that way.

    Anyone who’s a Twat or a Wanker really needs to grow the fuck up. That’s some high school bullshit.

    Encountering a Cunt is always unpleasant, especially since they often appear initially to be a mere Pussy, or at worst an Asshole. But push a little too far, and there’s no arguing that a Cunt is anything but a Cunt. The only people who can seem to deal with Cunts are the biggest Cocks (not Dicks) around, who are so obnoxious and bullheaded they’re barely even aware of their surroundings.

    And no one, but NO ONE, likes a Shit.

    Seb

    July 9, 2009 at 2:57 am

  4. Strongly disagree with Voyou re Bush as wanker, Blair as cunt.

    Clearly Bush is a cunt too.

    Wanker implies a certain inconsequentiality. Wankers are posers, fools, idiots, egotists. Fundamentally they can be ignored.

    When the wanker begins to impinge on others in a more radical and pernicious way, they become a cunt.

    Berlusconi is a wanker, a venal, lecherous wanker. Sarkozy is a cunt, because he compounds his vanity with the inflammatory rhetoric of class hatred and suppression. Garth Crooks, say, is a wanker – a pompous cliche-ridden windbag. Tim Lovejoy without doubt is a cunt, taking crass self-regarding ignorance to levels hitherto unexplored.

    Arguably you could say that in their profound shallowness, both Bush and Blair were wankers, and someone like Cheney was the cunt in that era. But not that Blair was a cunt if Bush is classed as mere wanker.

    ZSTC

    July 9, 2009 at 7:20 am

  5. Quite honestly, I find your phrase ‘the business-end of the female of the species’ far more horrible than any of the words you discuss here.

    infinite thought

    July 9, 2009 at 7:28 am

  6. Maybe your missing British slang word is “nonce” — a basically homophobic word used to describe any allegedly effeminate behaviour. “You nonce!”/”You’re such a nonce!” — Actually very common but most people of a certain ilk (perhaps yours, certainly mine) would be too aware of the homphobic connotations to actually use it. Albeit quite happy to cunt and twat.

    There is also of course “wuss” (“don’t be such a wuss!”) which has exactly the same meaning as “pussy” à l’américaine but is much less strong (wuss is hump to pussy’s fuck). Can almost be affectionate. Ditto “sissy”.

    RobDP

    July 9, 2009 at 8:25 am

  7. “So we hate timidity and effeminacy. And they hate… what?”

    My guess is that it’s the old Victorian norms against making yourself a nuisance. I find myself reaching for “twat” whenever I see someone breaking cultural norms and pushing into a queue or thinking too highly of him/herself. With regards to pop-philosophers, “twat” means “I turned on my TV set and I had to watch this idiot tell me something I already knew about Plato”. He’s getting above his station, in short.

    John A

    July 9, 2009 at 9:38 am

  8. Oh boy. Responding to everyone at once…

    Over in penis land, is there much difference in being a cock rather than a prick, or a dick?

    Probably says more about the speaker than the object of description, no? Cock is a tiny bit twee, anglo. Dick sounds a tiny bit grade school. Prick is a bit more gritty, man of the world, right?

    Or are there regional differences, a la hoagie / sub / hero / grinder?

    I think the American term that comes close to picking out the same objectionable qualities might be “douchebag,” but of course that’s a much less strong term.

    Douchebag is persistently popular, but it’s a bit too archaically graphic to have the glottal punch of the more common words. It retains a bit of humourousness that undercuts its blastrange.

    I don’t know if it says anything interesting about the British that the strongest term of abuse is reserved for those who are not merely shits, but self-satisfied shits. There might be a certain feeling for class divisions here, a belief that there are a class of people who are so insulated by privelege that they never have to face the fact that they are, in fact, cunts.

    Yes, voyou, that’s just what I was looking for. Thanks. America is anxious about cowardly effeminacy, Britain about smug self-satisfaction. It’s a really, really big distinction, and worth thinking about…. And it makes things difficult when you cross the pond, as confident self-satisfaction is one of the ways that you attain non-pussyness in America… There’s a vice versa to this too, of course.

    Dicks are bold enough to go after Assholes, which often gets rough as the two duel for dominance.

    I’ve seen this happen, time and again, in an oh-so-upclose way. You guys can guess which of the two I am….

    Berlusconi is a wanker, a venal, lecherous wanker. Sarkozy is a cunt, because he compounds his vanity with the inflammatory rhetoric of class hatred and suppression. Garth Crooks, say, is a wanker – a pompous cliche-ridden windbag. Tim Lovejoy without doubt is a cunt, taking crass self-regarding ignorance to levels hitherto unexplored.

    OK. I’m starting to think that we should write a collective CiF piece out of this thread. We could call ourselves the Business End Collective, which, see!, works in more than one way! Just like the parts we’re talking about! Sweet performativity! Speaking of which,

    Quite honestly, I find your phrase ‘the business-end of the female of the species’ far more horrible than any of the words you discuss here.

    Ooops. The business-end of the femaleness of females. Not, you know, where they do their important work. Sorry – was writing tongue in cheeks, obviously!

    Maybe your missing British slang word is “nonce”

    Hmmm. See, obviously I’ve heard of the word, but no, I’ve never actually heard anyone say it. Interesting!

    Wait – wuss has to be of American origin, right?

    Ads

    July 9, 2009 at 9:39 am

  9. Nonce isn’t really homophobic, it implies paedophilia. Poof is the homophobic equivalent.

    Isn’t cocksucker a popular American curseword?

    Portmanteau and compound word cusses are always fun and can be rather imaginative. I like fuckface, cuntfeatures, shitbag etc….

    Adam

    July 9, 2009 at 2:19 pm

  10. Cocksucker comes up, though not as often as is represented in Deadwood. We’re clearly a bit more nervous about our sexualities than you guys are.

    adswithoutproducts

    July 9, 2009 at 2:22 pm

  11. Cunt can also be a term of affection- at least in Glasgow and Dublin. A ‘sound cunt’ in Dublin is a decent fellow. Used to be the same with bollocks in Dublin too, but that has become pretty straightforwardly derogatory of late.
    Comparable to polysemeity of ‘motherfucker’ in black America, about which Bobby Seale wrote some wonderful pages in Seize the Time.

    happy

    July 9, 2009 at 2:42 pm

  12. Moderate googling reveals that “wuss” is indeed of American origin. You might be right about the Americanness of “asshole” too, but I grew up not feeling that “arsehole” was awkward nor that “wuss” was American. I probably grew up too late in the century.

    I think John A is completely right. I know I most use twat, cunt and dickhead (silent h) to describe people being loud or making a scene or behaving like a.. well.. twat.

    Thanks Adam. I’d forgotten that nonce was really about paedophilia. Probably because of how paedophilia is used as a homphobic accusation.

    RobDP

    July 9, 2009 at 3:12 pm

  13. I can’t believe I just read “polysemeity” and “motherfucker” in the same sentence…

    Seb

    July 9, 2009 at 4:07 pm

  14. Yes and only one of those is in my dictionary

    happy

    July 9, 2009 at 4:57 pm

  15. Just incase there’s anyone out there still watching, there’s this from today’s Time Out:

    Interviewer: So Nathan Barley was a pioneer?
    Charlie Brooker: Exactly, that’s the most terrifying thing. Well, also, the sort who’s going to get things done. In the “TV Go Home” listings he was a cunt, whereas in the TV series he was a twat, that was the difference. That was an early decision because in the listings he was not really a person, he was an object.

    John A

    July 9, 2009 at 6:16 pm

  16. Ooh I missed all the fun!

    Just chiming in to say that I’ve always seen “silly” next to twat, implying its powerlessness.

    And re: David, over in the US “fanny” means “buttocks,” so be warned of transatlantic misunderstandings there.

    Funny thing is I’ve never been called or seen another woman be called a pussy, tho’ someone might say we _have_ one —- we obviously don’t have the masculine authority that “pussy” cuts down.

    Every time I’ve heard a man call a woman a “cunt” on the other hand, it has been immediately followed by an attempt at some seriously scary violence, the type where the bouncers call the police in addition to swarming all over.

    Sisyphus

    July 10, 2009 at 3:05 am

  17. There might be a certain feeling for class divisions here, a belief that there are a class of people who are so insulated by privelege that they never have to face the fact that they are, in fact, cunts.

    Yes, exactly. In high school (in Wisconsin, ads — yes, we do know the word) I remember clearly how my extra-feminist classmate tried to re-appropriate the term ‘cunt’, in the model of ‘Nigger’ and ‘Queer’. She was after the very self-satisfaction (& shamelessness?) that apparently makes cunt so derogatory.

    Never really caught on over here.

    David R

    July 10, 2009 at 5:49 am

  18. (in Wisconsin, ads — yes, we do know the word)

    ooops. See I move away and get all insensitive. It’s a lovely state! I really like Milwaukee!

    Sisyphus,

    That’s an interesting point in re pussy / cunt as applied to women and absolutely right, at least as far as the US goes.

    Ads

    July 13, 2009 at 10:39 pm

  19. I’m am amused and delighted to find such high-brow commentary on so vulgar a subject.

    bfbbrown

    December 12, 2009 at 3:45 am

  20. How no one laughed in the French staffroom when an American woman asked whether she could squeeze her fanny in between us…apart from me, nearly. There was a student called Fanny Mine in my class too..
    In the UK ‘fanny’ is yet another term for female genitalia.

    steve

    December 12, 2009 at 9:09 pm

  21. Fantastic discussion. I’d like to add a few comments.

    Over here (Scotland)”arsehole” is much, much stronger than “asshole”. The latter is here a mild, slightly affected form of rebuke – the kind of thing you might hear in a particularly racy episode of Seinfeld. Also, “cock” is much stronger than “prick”, though perhaps only because less frequently deployed so carrying more shock factor.

    Where does “tit” figure in the pantheon? I’d say it can only be used to describe a male (and that’s another discussion altogether) and is the same as “twat”, though has more buffoonish connotations.

    Finally, I invite anyone who knows a Scot to have him (or indeed her) demonstrate our facility for turning noun profanities (cunt, twat et al.) into beautiful adjectival phrases. No-one – no-one – can swear like the Scots.

    DavidH

    December 12, 2009 at 10:02 pm

  22. In the last post, I think I meant adverbial. Not sure though. “Cunting” would be an example.

    DavidH

    December 12, 2009 at 10:04 pm

  23. Best.

    Thread.

    Ever.

    Fucker

    August 17, 2010 at 5:35 pm

  24. Honestly, I’m getting a little tired of it appearing so consistently high in my “top posts” list and it might come down soon… Don’t like to give new visitors the wrong idear, you know…. As brilliant, yes, as the thread is….

    adswithoutproducts

    August 18, 2010 at 11:37 am

  25. I knew a someone elected as an MP (Member of Parliament), who was a UK MP from 1997 to 2010 and had a “cunt plant”.

    Long before she was elected as an MP her live-in partner was her electoral agent, and sometimes they argued (as people do). One day during an argument he called her a cunt and left the house. Later he returned with a house plant as an apology. She kept the plant for years, long after they split up, and always referred to it as “the cunt plant”.

    Oddly in the UK it’s much worse for a man to call a woman a cunt than it is for a man to call a man one.

    Tony

    April 17, 2011 at 12:33 am

  26. Maybe piling on the vocabulary is the answer, as when one describes Tony Bliar as a “mother-fucking cunt-faced bastard” – which is of course precisely what he is. Fir some of us, a pussy is still a beautiful animal of the feline kind with long tail and sharp claws.

    To insult someone properly is an art, so it takes time to master; a really good insult should be demeaning. It requires the quality Aristotle calls “megalopsuchia”, “greatness of soul”, a lofty character, to squash someone properly; so it must of course be unanswerable, like this insult by Sir Winston Churchill:

    Bessie Braddock: “Sir, you are drunk.”
    Churchill: “And you, madam, are ugly; but in the morning, I shall be sober.”

    Smussup

    September 24, 2011 at 12:57 am


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